Growing up Italian, it is hard not to develop a love for pasta. At my grandmother’s house, we ate homemade gravy, fresh pasta – gnocchi, ravioli, spaghetti, meatballs, braciola and hot sausage – every Sunday at noon. Always at noon. During the week, my Irish mother opened up a jar of Ragu. But much to the delight of my brother and me, she served it over “roller coaster” pasta (our whimsical moniker for rotini pasta). Today, my pasta dishes tend to fall somewhere in between my Italian grandmother and my Irish momma. And roller coaster pasta is still my noodle of choice.
This weekend, we hosted my in-laws and my mom for a belated Christmas celebration. On Saturday, we toured the new Yards Brewery and then we indulged in some shoe shopping and a required visit to Sephora. My mom may not know her way around a food processor or immersion blender, but she knows all about cosmetics and accessories.
With all of this shopping and beer drinking, I wanted to keep dinner simple. I made a sauce from some canned tomatoes, a jar of tomato paste, Italian seasoning, garlic, sautéed eggplant, mushrooms and red peppers, and vegan sausage. Most importantly, I served dinner with three bottles of red wine – always a crowd pleaser.
Following brunch on Sunday, my Italian aunt and I regaled my in-laws with tales of Sicilian folklore like the “overlooks” (a special prayer that my grandmother says to make our headaches go away when some is giving us the evil eye), family feuds, Catholicism, drunken marriage traps, and, of course, our favorite meals.
Pasta for German In-Laws
- 1 box (16 oz) rotini pasta, (I prefer Barilla)
- 2 links Field Roast Vegetarian Sausage (Italian)
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 pkg (8 oz) sliced mushrooms or 3-4 large mushrooms
- 1 eggplant, diced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 can (15 oz) tomato paste
- 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta water, and return to pot. Set aside and keep warm. In separate pot, mix crushed tomatoes with tomato paste and Italian seasoning and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and break apart with a wooden spoon. Add mushrooms, eggplant and a small amount of olive oil. Saute for 5 minutes, then add diced onion. Season with salt and red pepper flakes, then saute 3 minutes. Add red bell pepper and garlic. Saute 3-5 minutes, until peppers are crisp-tender. Add vegetable mixture to the tomato sauce mixture. Add to pasta and toss. If mixture is too dry, add pasta water a little at a time until sauce is desired consistency. Serve immediately.